Supreme Court Agrees to Review Health Care Law

The Supreme Court’s announcement Monday that it will hear challenges to the Obama-sponsored health care law opens the most important chapter in the legal battle over the law, amid the tumult of election-year politics. A ruling could determine the federal government’s power to address the most pressing social problems, specifically how to ensure medical coverage nationwide. The decision is likely to be handed down in late June, right before the Republican and Democratic conventions for the 2012 presidential election. The main question in the dispute that’s expected to be heard over two days in March is whether in requiring most Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty, Congress exceeded its power to regulate interstate commerce.

  • Individual and state rights have been so trampled by the federal government as to become virtually unrecognizable. This is a good opportunity to reverse the socialist trend killing our country

Detroit Prayer Rally Draws Protests

Speaking to thousands inside Ford Field, the controversial leader of a 24-hour prayer rally in Detroit called for Jesus to rule over Detroit, Dearborn and America. Otherwise, he warned, the U.S. will fall into ruin. “We need Jesus’ face to appear all across America,” Lou Engle thundered to a cheering crowd Friday night at TheCall, a movement that has drawn much criticism. Before the rally began, about 150 people protested against Engle, who is with a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. They say Dearborn is under demonic control because of its Muslim population. Organizers for Engle’s prayer event were expecting 50,000 to 70,000 people to show up, but the crowd size was markedly smaller than that, with much of the stadium unfilled. The protest against Engle featured Catholic, Baptist and Methodist pastors from Detroit, as well as gay rights and women’s activists.

More Occupy Defiance, Violence

Police say Occupy San Francisco protesters attacked two officers in separate incidents during a march. Police officers were trying to keep marchers out of the middle of an intersection where trains were running when a woman came out of the crowd, slashed an officer’s hand with a pen knife or razor blade, then disappeared back into the crowd. Later at the same location, police say a man came out of the crowd and grabbed an officer’s radio, and when the officer chased him another protester pushed the officer, cut his face and tore his uniform. Police could not find the attackers and no one has been arrested.

Anti-Wall Street protesters and their supporters flooded a city park area in Portland early Sunday in defiance of an eviction order, and authorities elsewhere stepped up pressure against the demonstrators, arresting nearly two dozen. Crowds converged on two adjacent downtown Portland parks where protesters are camped after city officials set a midnight Saturday deadline to disperse. But hours later, the protesters were still there, backed by many supporters who spilled out into the streets next to their camp, tying up traffic. They finally obeyed police orders to clear the street early Sunday.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear evicted dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday from the park that has become the epicenter of the worldwide movement protesting corporate greed. At least 150 were arrested after NYPD issued eviction notices to ‘Occupy’ protesters at Zuccotti Park. The debate between public safety and First Amendment rights is reaching a breaking point in the protests in New York City and elsewhere, as police and government officials clear out camps in response to reports of violence, vandalism, death and illness. Protesters say they fear individual incidents will be used as leverage to deny their freedom of speech and displace them with curfew ordinances. City officials say public safety needs to be balanced with those rights.

Schuller’s Ex-Megachurch in Bankruptcy Bidding War

A federal bankruptcy court hearing aimed at settling the future of the financially ailing Crystal Cathedral turned into a bidding match Monday with a university and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange competing to buy the church’s sprawling grounds. The daylong hearing also highlighted a deepening rift between the Rev. Robert Schuller and the ministry he created more than 50 years ago over intellectual property rights and lifetime payments to the founder of the megachurch. The Diocese — which wants to use the gleaming 3,000-seat sanctuary for a countywide cathedral — boosted its bid for the property to $57.5 million from $55.4 million. In response, Orange County’s Chapman University — which wants to expand its health services offerings and possibly start a medical school on the site — offered to alter its $51.5 million bid to include a 15-year lease of key buildings on the 40-acre campus – such as the Crystal Cathedral, bell tower and cemetery – for $1 a month.

Economic News

Americans spent more on autos, electronics and building supplies in October, pushing retail sales up for a fifth straight month. Retail sales increased 0.5%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Sales increased even though department stores and specialty clothing store sales fell in October.

The federal government is going to lose billions more on its automotive bailout than it planned. The Treasury Department now expects to lose $9 billion more on the automotive bailout, increasing the total loss to an estimated $23.6 billion. The increase is largely due to a slide in General Motors’ stock price. The full cost of the bailout of GM, Chrysler Group and the auto finance companies totaled $79.6 billion. The two automakers restructured through bankruptcy. Ford Motor didn’t take a bailout. The government has gotten back $23.2 billion of its $49.5 billion bailout of GM.

Economists are growing more worried that Congress will not extend this year’s payroll-tax cut past Dec. 31, pulling up to $120 billion out of consumers’ pockets and cutting into already tepid forecasts for household spending in the first half of 2012. The tax cut was approved as a temporary measure last fall. The law cut the tax paid by employees, which supports the Social Security program, to 4.2% of the first $106,800 of a worker’s income from 6.2%. That cut gave $1,000 back to a worker earning $50,000 a year.

Greek, Italian Plans Bypass Voters

More democracy or less? That’s the question Europe faces as it wrangles with a spiraling debt crisis that has cost the Italian and Greek leaders their jobs. Monday, the new prime minister for Greece presented his plans to parliament for a new “technical” government. Italy’s new prime minister nominee was in talks to create what he called a “non-political” Cabinet of experts to deal with its financial instability. Greek political leaders appointed former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos as prime minster last week to shepherd a European rescue plan and impose steeper spending cuts to prevent the country’s default. Sunday, political leaders in Italy nominated former European commissioner Mario Monti to replace Silvio Berlusconi.

  • The New World Order folks have no desire to include voters in their plans to use this crisis to tighten up their control over European nations by appointing their own leaders


Economist Mario Monti has accepted the monumental task of trying to form a new government that can rescue Italy from financial ruin. His selection Sunday came a day after Silvio Berlusconi reluctantly resigned as premier, bowing out after world markets pummeled Italy’s borrowing ability, reflecting a loss of faith in the 75-year-old media mogul’s leadership. Berlusconi quit after Parliament approved new reform measures demanded by the European Union and central bank officials — but even those are not considered enough to right Italy’s ailing economy. Monti must now draw up a Cabinet, lay out his priorities, and see if he has enough support in Parliament to govern. Monti faces a daunting challenge — preventing an Italian default that could tear apart the 17-nation Eurozone and send Europe and the U.S. into new recessions.

Asian/Pacific Economic Zone

A U.S.-backed initiative to forge a Pacific free trade bloc got a big boost Sunday when leaders of Canada and Mexico said their countries are interested in joining. President Obama had made progress on the pact one of his top priorities for the annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders being held in his home state of Hawaii. It comes after Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, said it would join the nine nations already involved in talks on what has been dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Europe again on the brink of recession, Asia’s vital role as a driver of global growth has gained even greater urgency.

A further step toward a U.S.-backed free trade bloc handed Asia-Pacific leaders a rare tangible achievement from their annual summit, but highlighted growing competition with China for influence in the fast rising region. Asia’s increasingly vital role as a driver of global growth has added urgency to the campaign to remove barriers and bottlenecks that slow trade and business — the original mission of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose 21 members include economies huge and tiny, rich and poor. President Barack Obama, flanked by leaders of eight other nations involved in negotiations on setting up the trading bloc, said he was optimistic the Trans-Pacific Partnership could draft a legal framework by next year.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program was not reflected in a recent U.N. report, which said that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing an atomic bomb. “Iran is closer to getting an (atomic) bomb than is thought,” Netanyahu said in remarks to cabinet ministers. “Only things that could be proven were written (in the U.N. report), but in reality there are many other things that we see,” Netanyahu said. At the start of meeting, Netanyahu made a broadcast repeating his call for the world “to stop Iran’s race to arm itself with a nuclear weapon before it is too late.”

With only eight nations committed to support Palestinian statehood rather than the nine needed for approval, the UN Security Council has deferred voting on the resolution indefinitely. The Palestinian leaders continue to insist that they will seek an up-or-down vote, but it is unclear when or if such a vote will be held. Some sources indicate that the Palestinians may try to obtain upgraded status from the General Assembly, but Palestinian President Abbas insists that he will continue to seek full member status from the Security Council.


Rival militias clashed on the outskirts of the Libyan capital for a fourth day Sunday in the most sustained violence since the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi last month. The fighting, which has killed at least six people since late last week, raised new concerns about the ability of Libya’s transitional government to disarm thousands of fighters and restore order after an eight-month civil war. Heavy gunfire and explosions of rocket-propelled grenades were heard over hours Sunday in the area between the Warshefana lands, about 18 miles west of Tripoli, and Zawiya, another 10 miles to the west.


Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country’s membership, as Turkey sent planes to evacuate diplomatic staff and their families after a night of attacks on embassies. In a significant concession, the government said the Arab officials could bring any civilian or military observers they deem appropriate to oversee implementation of an Arab League plan for ending the violence. The 22-member bloc’s vote on Saturday was a stinging rebuke to a regime that prides itself as a bastion of Arab nationalism and left it increasingly isolated over its crackdown on an eight-month uprising that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 3,500 people since mid-March.

Dozens of soldiers and security forces were gunned down by suspected army defectors in southern Syria, a deadly ambush that comes as President Bashar Assad increasingly appears unable to manage the crisis. Monday’s hours-long clash in the southern province of Daraa came on a particularly bloody day in Syria, with as many as 90 people killed across the country. The brazen attack by the army defectors suggested a new confidence among troops who have sided with the protesters and highlighted the potential for an armed confrontation to escalate.


Yemeni government forces and allied tribesmen killed ten militants in attacks around the country Sunday, as a visiting United Nations envoy met with embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to push for a solution to the country’s political crisis. Security has collapsed across the Arab world’s poorest nation during the nine-month popular uprising seeking to oust Saleh, who has been in power for 30 years. Pro-Saleh forces regularly engage in deadly clashes with armed tribesmen and military defectors who support the protesters in Yemen’s largest cities, and al-Qaeda-linked militants have overrun entire towns in the country’s restive south. Meanwhile, international diplomacy has failed to stop the crisis. Saleh has refused numerous times to follow through with a U.S.-backed proposal crafted by Yemen’s powerful Gulf Arab neighbors under which he would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.


In a report regarding the Oct. 9 massacre of 27 Coptic Christians, the fact-finding commission of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights absolved the army of any responsibility of firing ammunition and provided evidence for its innocence. The report, which put the blame of the massacre on “unidentified” citizens and accused the protesters of inciting violence, drew angry responses from Copts and was blasted by NGOs and human rights activists as a whitewash of the military’s role in the massacre. The report acknowledged that 12 Copts were run over by armored vehicles but asserted that those deaths were not intentional and due only to the attempts of police to disperse the crowd. Copts maintain that all 27 deaths were the responsibility of the government.


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a study showing that textbooks in Pakistani schools foster prejudice and intolerance of religious minorities and that most teachers view non-Muslims as “enemies of Islam,” the Washington Post reports. The study reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1-10 in Pakistan’s four provinces, and researchers visited more than 50 schools and interviewed nearly 500 students. Researchers found systematic negative portrayals of religious minorities, specifically Hindus and Christians (which make up 1 and 2 percent, respectively, of the population), as “inferior or second-class citizens,” as well as instances of historic revisionism designed to denigrate non-Muslims and foster the sense that Pakistan’s Islamic identity was under threat.


Police in India’s Kashmir Valley detained and beat seven converts from Islam and were expected to arrest Christian workers after Muslim leaders alleged that Muslim youth were being “lured” to Christianity, Compass Direct News reports. Police got the names of the converts, as well as the names of their pastors, from a video recording of their baptisms that was posted on YouTube, and, in addition to beating them, asked them if Christians had given them money for their conversion. One of the pastors, Chander Mani Khanna, has been summoned by the mufti, the head of the sharia (Islamic law) court, to appear in court next week, and the converts have all agreed to sign affidavits saying there was no duress or allurement to convert. Khanna said the Muslims had been coming to the church on their own initiative: “I can’t convert anyone; it’s the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. India’s constitution provides for religious freedom, including the right to propagate and the right to change one’s religion. Christians have generally had good relations with the Muslims in the region, but recent tensions have been brewing as a result of thousands of young Muslims converting to Christianity.


The Ethiopian government recently announced the discovery of plans by the extremist Wahhabi Muslims to turn Ethiopia into an Islamic country governed by Sharia law, and expressed concern over the growing violence against moderate Muslims and Christians by Wahhabi radicals, Mission Network News reports. “We have found evidences and pamphlets [which] were publicly distributed during the month of Ramadan calling on the Muslim community to stand up against all non-Wahhabi Muslims and followers of other religions,” said Mersessa Reda, the director general of the Ministry of Federal Affairs of Ethiopia. International Christian Concern reports that the radical teachings of the Wahhabi have been spreading among Muslims in Ethiopia, promoting intolerance of other religions.


The presidents of Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan are both predicting the possibility of a new war in an oil-rich region that has seen a spike in cross-border attacks. Troop build-ups are being reported on both sides of the Sudan-South Sudan border, the world’s newest international boundary, and rebels in Sudan announced a new alliance with the aim of overthrowing their own government, which is seated in the capital, Khartoum. After two long wars that spanned decades, South Sudan formally declared independence from Sudan in July following a successful independence referendum in January that was guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal. The world celebrated the peaceful break-up of Sudan. But big disputes that have long lurked in the background are now festering, and flaring into violence.

  • Sudan is largely Muslim while South Sudan is mostly Christian, adding to the border pressures


Elite police units backed by armored military vehicles and helicopters invaded Rio’s largest slum before dawn Sunday, the most ambitious operation yet in an offensive that seeks to bring security to a seaside city long known for violence. The action is part of a policing campaign to drive heavily armed drug gangs out of the city’s slums, where the drug traffickers have ruled for decades. Authorities vow to continue the crackdown and stabilize Rio’s security before it hosts the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Officials are counting on those events to signal Brazil’s arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power.


A magnitude-5.2 quake early Tuesday shook eastern Turkey — already devastated by two powerful tremors. The latest quake hit Van province but there was no immediate report of damage or injuries. Its epicenter was in the village of Mollakasim. Previous quakes have turned Van, the provincial capital of half a million, into a virtual ghost town. Last month’s magnitude-7.2 quake and a magnitude-5.7 quake last week flattened some 2,000 buildings, killed 644 people and left thousands homeless. Very few state-owned buildings in the capital survived the quake.

Geological agencies say a strong earthquake has hit waters off eastern Indonesia, but that there was no threat of a tsunami. The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6, struck off the Moluccas islands on Monday. It was centered 30 miles beneath the ocean floor around 140 miles (223 kilometers) from Ternate, the capital of North Maluku province.


The problems that arose in Connecticut after the freak October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in August are similar to ones that cropped up after other major storms dating to Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislators and other state officials say it’s time to finally fix long-standing problems such as utilities not being quick enough in bringing in out-of-state crews, inadequate tree trimming and poor communication with government officials after storms. They also want to hold utilities more responsible for performance troubles, possibly by issuing fines.

Thailand’s prime minister is urging people in flooded areas to be patient, saying the government is working as hard as it can to drain the water. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Monday that the flooding situation that has plagued the country since late July is improving as waters recede. The national death toll from Thailand’s worst floods in more than half a century has reached 562. The floods are still affecting 22 of the country’s 77 provinces.

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